Exclusive: Catching Up With Susan Kelechi Watson From NBC’s Hot TV Series ‘This Is Us’Posted by Wilson Morales
November 1, 2016
One of the breakouts from TV’s new freshmen class in 2016 has NBC’s latest drama series, This Is Us, starring Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan and Ron Cephas Jones.
So much goes on with this series that it’s not easy to explain the plot but as the press notes indicate, “This refreshingly honest and provocative series follows a unique ensemble. As their paths cross and their life stories intertwine in curious ways, we find that several of them share the same birthday and so much more than anyone would expect. From the writer and directors of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” comes a smart, modern dramedy that will challenge your everyday presumptions about the people you think you know.”
For Susan Kelechi Watson, best known for her recurring role on three seasons of “Louie” as the title character’s ex-wife, Janet, the Howard University alumnus finally has a series regular role that showcases many facets of her acting in playing Beth, the strong supportive mother and wife to Randall played by Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown.
Watson also has a recurring role on the hit NBC drama “The Blacklist,” and previously had multi-episode stints on “Third Watch,” “NCIS” and “The Following.” Watson has been especially busy the past two years, also guest starring on “Billions,” “Limitless,” “Blue Bloods,” “Happyish,” “Veep,” the upcoming HBO series “Divorce” and several other television series.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Watson talks about landing the role, working with Sterling K. Brown and what she does on her down time.
Can you talk about playing Beth? What’s it like?
Susan Kelechi Watson: It’s been fun. It really has been. I love the supportive nature of the relationship. I love that the relationship is grounded in trust and love. They’re able to go through challenges and unexpected surprises, and all these things together, but at the foundation of it, they both are really committed to each other. I love playing that with Sterling and it’s really fun.
One of the things about the show it that they go back and forth in time, and you never know where it’s going to go to. What was your impression when you first read the script?
Susan Kelechi Watson: I was just as surprised, I think, as everybody else who watched it visually. Reading it gave me that same feeling of surprise. I did not see it coming anywhere. I really enjoyed the idea that (creator) Dan Fogelman has, and Don Todd, and all these very talented and creative writers have, of journeying back and forth in time so that we can see how people have arrived at who they are today. I look forward to that concept continuing as we journey on in the series.
Was this something that you went after, that your people pitched out to you? How did you hear about it?
Susan Kelechi Watson: It was an audition like any other audition. I went in one day, I had the audition, I ran lines with my boyfriend, just like a regular day, regular audition. Then it just evolved into where I am now, but really it started with an email from my agent and manager that I had this audition at Telsey & Co., this fantastic casting agency on the east and west coast. It was very normal. It was very ordinary, and it turned into extraordinary.
How’s working opposite Sterling K Brown?
Susan Kelechi Watson: Working with Sterling has been so easy, because he’s so talented. He’s so thoughtful about his character, about the situations that we’re in, about how things unfold. He’s an intelligent actor, and so he’s thorough. It’s great because we can get on set, and have a really great tennis match going back and forth in these scenes, and there’s this sense of trust. No matter which way either of us goes, the other person is going to follow. I have the best time working with Sterling. He’s as talented, and more, than people are finally getting to know him to be.
What about playing a mom on screen?
Susan Kelechi Watson: Playing a mom on screen? I’ve done it before. I did it on Louie, so I feel like I have some of that background. I’m not a mother. I’m an aunt, nine times over, but I’m not a mother. The young girls playing my daughters, Sterling and my daughters, are just really honest, and they interpret things so beautifully. They make it so easy. I really have the best way to enter into this, because the young girls are just so good at what they do, and it just makes it really easy, playing a scene with them. Our family feels genuine. I’m happy about that, I’m happy about what the writers, and the dynamics that the writers and the creator has created within our family.
Having worked on various series in a recurring role or in a guest spot, how good is it to have a sense of job security on a show that’s going to last throughout the year?
Susan Kelechi Watson: There is nothing like being able to develop a three-dimensional character over a long period of time. Sometimes you aren’t able to fully portray a character, because you only have a couple of scenes to do it in, and you don’t get the full life and background of that character. When you have time, and you have people writing for you, and developing with you, and invested in your character, there’s nothing like it. I have time to sit with this woman, and really contemplate and think about how much more of her I can bring to life and to the screen. We get to think, “Did we miss anything?” You don’t get that with a guest star. Now we can say, “Did we miss something? All right, let’s do that next time,” or, “Let’s write this in the future.”
I feel like when I go on set, I have the opportunity to live and breathe her in a way that … Sometimes, you do your best, with episodic it’s your job to bring the full character to every episode that you do, but there is nothing like being able to live in a character for a long period of time. I think that’s a gift.
When you’re not working, what do you do in your down time?
Susan Kelechi Watson: I’m thankful to have the opportunity to participate in various charitable events now. I recently went to an Operation Smile event, which fixes cleft palates and stuff for children across the globe. Jennifer Salke is Vice president of NBC and this is an organization that she really stands behind. My mother has been helping this organization, donating to the organization for years. She had invited me to attend their recent fundraiser. I went to an independent women in journalism fundraiser, IWMF, and that was really amazing to see how these women are putting their lives on the line to be able to tell stories. We have freedom of speech in this country, freedom of journalism, that other people don’t have. Getting the opportunity to be a part of things that I haven’t been before.
Also on my down time, I’m seeing my family, making sure that I’m seeing friends, and making sure I’m getting some rest, because there is a lot of work to be done. To be quite honest, working a lot, because I’ve been getting a script every week. Learning the next episode, and what’s happening next. There’s been a lot of that. Things are busier than they used to be, I will say that, in a good way.